Setting Off From Sandwell valley

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

South Shetland Birding - Sumburgh Head RSPB Reserve 14th September 2010

Thanks to Julian Branscombe for his very kind donation for the RSPB.

Early views out of the house window with snipe and redshank beside a near small pool, wheatear and rock pipits sheltering against the garden's dry stone walls as a SW wind blew and sharp showers passed. Many, many thanks to Roger Riddington for giving me a bed for the night and for helping me with my travels, giving advice and even fixing the previous day's gear/chain problem.

Roger is the editor of the famous British Birds magazine and I feel somewhat daunted to be with such an intelligent and talented birder with such a career profile; warden of Fair Isle etc. Yet Roger has been brilliant and I have really enjoyed being with him.

Still, after porridge for breakfast I got out into the field and started searching the area. First stop was Loch Virkie, finding then counting the waders; knot, turnstone, dunlin and ringed plover with a single shelduck and a few common terns seen also.

Met a great couple whilst sheltering from a shower behind their shed, Pete and Gail who kindly invited me in for coffee and a chat. Recently having moved to Shetland from the Scottish mainland but originally from Cornwall, they've renovated a croft overlooking the Loch and have a perfect position for watching the birds there. They've got the books, the bins, now they'll have the thrill of the new birds to find and see.

The famous Virkie willows were searched but only a single blackbird was found. Then to Scatness to have a look at the BOD, a type of bothy where a group of 12 siskin were flying around the archaelogical site. Must go back tomorrow and this time take some money for the entrance fee! Both the actual remains and the reconstructions of the iron age - Pictish buildings look brilliant and the three ladies met there were delightful and friendly also.

Past the airport and to the Sumburgh Hotel garden. 3 spotted flycatchers and a single willow warblers represented the migrants here.

Met a birder, Gary Bell and walked with him alongside a potato crop and then around the bunker field. I'm trying on my trip to improve my own birding skills and here on Shetland the more aggressive pishing is interesting. Twite were evident here, indeed 2 allowed me to sit beside them from about a meter away whilst I photographed them.

I searched the two quarries whilst Gary left to seawatch; only wheatear and blackbirds seen in these. I seawatched from behind a large dry stone wall as heavy showers quickly past in the strong wind. Joined gary again after being invited into the warm shelter of his car. Gannets and fulmars in the area in numbers with the occasional bonxie and shag and a group of grey geese in off the sea. Then we both saw the highlight of the watch simultaneously, a close in basking shark; Gary's first for Sumburgh and only his third in many years on Shetland. He phoned it out and soon others arrived to hopefully see it but unfortunately it didn't surface again.

Up to the RSPB offices atop the magnificent Sumburgh Head with it's large Stevenson lighthouse. Here met with Helen Moncrieff, the South Shetland reserves warden, Newton the assistant warden and I think Jim, the Sumburgh Farm owner. Jim had a dead short-eared owl that he'd found on the road. Surprising how small it looked. Helen showed me around and with Newton in the office, with coffee and Orkney oatcake we three chatted and talked about  . . . birds. Helen knew Mark and Joanne who I'd met whilst seeing dotterel so many months ago and phoned Mark up. Great to hear him again and remember Mark's superb blog [Of Pies and Birds] and his fair treatment of 'The Mouth From The South'. Now who put that cuddly penguin on my bike - a stowaway! [Thanks Helen and Newton]

A letter waiting for me too, a real surprise. It contained a postcard from a very dear friend and her husband, Pauline and Paul. Brilliant.

I've seen fair Isle at last. I could see it from Sumburgh and immediately thought of Gordon Barnes, who is the main reason I want to go there so very much. Gordon was a crofter and birder on Fair Isle in the 60's and early 70's, living there with Perry his wife and their two boys, Alan and John. I was very lucky to meet Gordon and we were very close friends.

Back to Roger's house, seeing a flying grey plover showing it's diagnostic black axillaries on the way, for a meal before enjoying the United - Rangers match at Paul and Liz's house. Liz was from Alvechurch originally, a small village about a mile or so from where I live when I'm not galavanting around the RSPB and WWT reserves. Paul was the warden of Fair Isle before Roger and he was from Dorset. A fabulous couple and once more I know that I am being so lucky to meet such people on my trip.

So a full day. Great people met, superb scenery, wild weather with birds and a basking shark. Brilliant.

1 comment:

  1. Great to hear from you last night Gary. Forgot to mention the Lasagne Pies from many of the local shops should be good fuel to get you up to Unst. Certainly my pie of choice when I'm up there.